Incoming President Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande: “A Time to Lead From Where You Are”

The following message titled, “A time to lead from where you are,” was emailed to the Champlain community on Monday, June 1 from Incoming President Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande.

“Every one of you out there watch your children breathe, watch the natural rise and fall of their breath, watch your sons and husbands asleep on a sofa, watch the rhythmic movements of their chests and cherish it. And as you do, remember that not all black mothers have that opportunity anymore.”

Over the weekend, a Facebook friend posted this moving quote. Together, we are outraged and mourn George Floyd. We acknowledge and share the pain that so many feel. We are inspired that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to take to the streets in protest, demanding that we do what is necessary so that this does not ever happen again.

We hear their cries for help.

Having lived through the Ferguson riots in St. Louis six years ago, I know that protests like this are also driven by built-up frustrations, frustrations that can easily boil over into civil unrest. When peaceful protests turn into rioting and looting, everyone is hurt, and the message of change is distorted. Again, there is no value to the destruction of property. This is unacceptable.

Those frustrations may have started with the senseless killing of George Floyd, but I suspect they may have as much to do with the challenges brought on by the current pandemic. Frustration over what to believe, when to reopen, and what lies ahead.

At times like this, I am reminded of that memorable spiritual from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, “We shall overcome.” We will get through this, hopefully, more engaged, more motivated, more determined to expect better.

I know that many in our Champlain College family and the Burlington community are hurting. To all of you, I offer my sincere hope that tomorrow will be better, that we will find a path forward. Please know that we at Champlain College are available to assist you in every way.

The challenges we face at this moment may seem overwhelming, but experience tells us we shall overcome them. It will take time, cooperation, common sense, and consideration for one another. Let’s come together in a spirit of kindness and fellowship. This is the time to reflect and to lead from where you are to do all that is possible to ensure that this senseless act does not repeat itself, ever, in our respective communities. I recall in one of the last installments of Star Wars, the wife of Yoda’s father put in perspective the challenges that America must confront: “We need to do and to stop trying.” America, it’s time to stop trying and to focus our collective efforts on what it takes to stop this senseless killing of people of color.

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